The first beta of Microsoft's latest Exchange server will be released later.

Exchange 12 will be released in both 32-bit and 62-bit versions, even though the final product will only run on 64-bit servers, because Microsoft wanted to give customers still running Exchange on 32-bit servers access to it, said product manager Megan Kidd.

Users have been more interested in new features than testing performance improvement, Kidd said.

The release is a private beta released to 1,400 customers and partners worldwide. It will not include all of the features planned for the commercial release, but will offer a preview of new technologies that are the results of the product's three major design goals: to give sysadmins more control; allow users to have more access to their inbox, and; provide increased security for Exchange servers.

Preset server roles will be added to help sysadmins configuration the server on hardware. For example, you can choose the role of "hub server" and Exchange will automatically set itself up to handle e-mail traffic in and out of the network.

Other possible options are: mailbox, edge, unified messaging and client access. An administrator can pick more than one of these roles during installation.

The beta also shows off a new filtering option for customising filters so changes such as patches can be supplied to a specific group of users.

Exchange 12 will have unified messaging, previously only available through third-party products, and users can also have calendar appointments read to them through the service.

Security enhancements include a new third-party anti-virus API, plus a new attachment-filtering feature that can prohibit certain types of attachments from leaving or entering the network.

Beta 2 of Exchange 12 is expected sometime in mid-2006. The final version is expected in early-to-mid 2007.